Manuel Püttmanns, PhD candidate at the University of Göttingen, Germany, writes about his work with skylark chicks, partially funded by the Dick Potts Legacy Fund. The lab that Manuel is in is part of the PARTRIDGE project, an Interreg project demonstrating grey partridge recovery across northern Europe.
As with most other species associated with farmland, skylark populations in Europe face a dramatic decline considered to be mainly due to agricultural intensification. For this reason, my colleagues and I initiated a skylark project at the University of Göttingen, Germany, in 2017. The main aim is to develop protection measures feasible in the agricultural landscape.
For my PhD thesis, I am investigating the habitat use of individual radio-tagged skylarks (Alauda arvensis) throughout the breeding season. Using a combination of telemetry, nest cameras, and direct observation, we will analyse how the composition and growth of crop vegetation within skylark home ranges affect the individual’s productivity. The parameters we will consider are. the number of breeding attempts, the choice of nesting and foraging sites, chick development as well as the predation risk in modern agriculture.
Furthermore, an integrated monitoring of insect diversity and insect biomass in the farmland in which the skylarks nest will provide valuable data on food availability. Special focus lies on the value of flower blocks originally designed for PARTRIDGE (http://www.northsearegion.eu/partridge/). At the end of our project in 2020, we expect key insights into the drivers of the skylark’s decline as well as new approaches for conservation measures.
AT the end of the 2018 field season we were quite happy with our achievements. Our team of several young students and field biologists, all enthusiastic about studying skylarks, radio-tagged 17 adult birds and monitored more than 40 skylark nests. Not only that we gathered important data about their breeding ecology and we also had a great time working together in the field. Now we are looking forward to analysing our data over winter and to learning more about this fascinating bird in field season 2019!
We are deeply grateful to the Dick Potts Legacy Fund and The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust for supporting our project.